After 40 years of seeking greater autonomy in international forums, Quebec says it is willing to work in "partnership" with the federal government, bowing to pressure from Ottawa that Canada speak with one voice abroad.
In a major shift in policy unveiled yesterday, Quebec will agree to work within Canadian delegations rather than seek distinct representation on some international forums.
In return, Quebec says Ottawa must recognize the provinces' international role, allow them a greater say on foreign policies in areas of provincial jurisdictions and recognize their right to representation on Canadian delegations abroad.
"The voice that Quebec is seeking is not a discordant voice, it's a voice to enrich Canada's," the province's Minister of International Affairs, Monique Gagnon-Tremblay, said yesterday. "We want to be a partner. We want to be a part of all decisions and negotiations in order to defend our interests and also to defend Canada. . . . We are not against Canadian foreign policy."
She said the province is tired of negotiating with Ottawa each time it wants to speak in international forums, and called on Ottawa to reach a consensus.
The first review of Quebec's international affairs policy in almost 15 years concluded that the only way to be heard in the international organizations would be through a formal agreement with Ottawa.
In a document released yesterday, Quebec said it wants to be part of the Canadian delegation in organizations including the World Trade Organization and UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).
"You have to be a sovereign country to sit at the table at these international organizations. Quebec is not a sovereign country. The Liberal Party of Quebec recognizes that Canada is our country of which we are very proud and that we want to work within Canada," Ms. Gagnon-Tremblay said.
Prime Minister Paul Martin promised Quebec a greater say in foreign relations and a meeting has been scheduled for Oct. 7 to negotiate an agreement.
Two weeks ago, Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew warned Quebec that Canada needs to speak with one voice and that Quebec's international relations policy was outdated.
He severely criticized the "Gérin-Lajoie doctrine," named after Quebec's former education minister, Paul Gérin-Lajoie, which in the 1960s said: "It is no longer admissible that the federal state can exercise a sort of surveillance and control of opportunities over Quebec's international relations. . . . Quebec wants to play a direct role."
Mr. Pettigrew argued that in the era of globalization, Quebec must be in step with Ottawa. "We have to find a way to work with the Quebec government . . . rather than take a doctrine from a man for whom I have the deepest respect but which dates back to another era," he said.
Quebec has representatives in 20 countries and has a status as a quasi-sovereign state within the Francophonie, an international body of French-speaking countries.
Sovereigntists called the move a step backward. "The message is clear: Quebec will be a docile partner," said Jonathan Valois, the Parti Québécois interim critic for international affairs.
Bloc Québécois Leader Gilles Duceppe said Ottawa is talking tough with Quebec to win votes in the rest of Canada. He accused the federal Liberals of being "arrogant" and "contemptuous" toward Quebec.
"Even in sports, for God's sake, Scotland is represented at the World Cup and it isn't even a country," Mr. Duceppe said. "The Liberals want to win the election with support from the rest of Canada and they believe it is always good to speak out against Quebec and show that they are putting Quebec in its place."
Ottawa has expressed concern over increasing support for sovereignty and the failing fortunes of Quebec Liberal Premier Jean Charest's government. Some federal Liberals fear that allowing Quebec a greater say in international forums could backfire should the PQ be elected.
"If the Quebec government is a separatist government and wants to speak in Montreal [at an international forum]to say they want to break up Canada, you can be sure that Ottawa won't be all that open to the idea," federal Environment Minister Stéphane Dion said yesterday.